Chaplin’s Bay Area Footsteps

Hosted by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Charlie Chaplin leads us on a YouTube visual tour around the Bay Area, from San Francisco to San Jose, from Oakland to Niles itself.

Chaplin’s meteoric career began with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studio in 1914. When Charlie’s one-year contract was due to expire, he demanded his $150 weekly salary be raised to $1,000. Sennett balked, complaining this exceeded his own salary. Winning the resulting bidding war, the Essanay Studios signed Chaplin in November 1914 at $1,250 a week. After filming his first Essanay comedy in Chicago, during the dead of winter, Charlie fled the cold and repressive studio regime, and completed the remainder of his one-year contract in California.

Back in the Golden State, two Oakland settings near Lake Merritt, both still standing, appear during Charlie’s Bay Area debut movie A Night Out (1915).

Above, filming a car chase along the Great Highway in San Francisco during A Jitney Elopement (1915).

The tour even shows the iconic concluding scene to The Tramp (1915), where Charlie traipses down a lonely highway, ready for his next adventure.

The Chaplin Bay Area YouTube tour is free, but the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum always welcomes support and new members.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

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9 Responses to Chaplin’s Bay Area Footsteps

  1. rangerdon says:

    Congratulations on the LA Times story today, John. That should push the idea over the hump.

    And this story about Niles brings back memories or working with the doctor in Washington township who was the catalyst for RR and Essanay History there. We visited the first studio, interviewed the son of the owner (the fellow remembered that there were barrels of film left, which the kids gleefully destroyed), and otherwise talked about what could be done to create a National Historic District there. One follow-one result was the engineering of a meeting with the Director of the California History Society and a fellow who’d inherited many drawings of set designs, costumes, etc, for Chaplin films in the hope that the CHS would buy them. They decided against it. I’ve wondered ever since what happened to those treasures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rangerdon says:

    PS. A detail of the Essanay Studio building shows the old Essanay barn. You can see it just above the right side (from our view) of the main studio building.

    The houses in The Champ, according to Dr. Fisher, were built by Chaplin for the talent.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rangerdon says:

    At 16:58 seconds there’s a much better view of the old barn….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much – I didn’t know that about the old barn


      • rangerdon says:

        Yes, quite an experience to wander through the barn with the owner’s son, decades ago (1973?) as he shared his stories. (I taught film in those days and am descended from a family partly-Hollywood.) One of the exciting highlights was the discovery of a tiny room that was probably the darkroom for the processing of the dailies. Somewhere there’s a photo of the barn as the studio, with a stage in front – Essanay before the main studio was built. Dr. Fisher, as I recall, had the photo in his collection so the film museum may have it or a copy.

        Here’s more from the Clio site: …In 1912, Anderson and others from Essanay came to set up a west-coast base. It did not take long for local businessmen to see potential in the town’s new filmmaking residents. They offered Anderson a barn to lease as a studio. He accepted the deal and set out to raise money from locals for the first rent payment. …

        Liked by 1 person

  4. rangerdon says:

    I’m searching for that photo of the barn as studio and will let you know if it turns up.

    Thanks for all your good work on this interesting site.


  5. MV says:

    John, I live right across the street from WB. Toluca Lake and Burbank have a lot of filming history. If you ever need someone local to go take photos, especially in my area, let me know. I take daily walks with my son in his stroller and we go past WB, Smokehouse (iconic filming location) and all around Toluca Lake on a daily basis.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much – I appreciate your kind offer. Enjoy your daily walks with your son while he’s still in a stroller – as all parents raising kids know, the days are long, and the years swift.


  6. Brad Alexander says:

    Hi John,
    Great article in the LA Times today. I especially liked your poses. It popped up on my headlines page, so it must be newsworthy and have widespread appeal. Hopefully we will see dedication of the new Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley some day soon. And a mural would be fantastic.

    Thanks for today’s post, it’s very interesting. I can’t wait until I’m near Niles again to visit these great locations firsthand.

    Liked by 1 person

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